Womens’ fashion magazines always feature articles in giant print on the cover, announcing the “Four Million Ways to Lose Flab in Under A Week!” or “Eight Hot Moves That Are Sure To Drive Him Nuts”. The titles may be over the top, but numbered lists are a great way to share a wealth of information without making you squint at a sea of words. To that end, this article will discuss the ten things you should not do when you are trying to build muscle, to help you avoid looking like the twiggy folks on those womens’ magazine covers.
1. Doing too many isolation exercises
How good an exercise is directly relates to the time it takes you to get adapted to it. No matter what you do, with enough time and enough weight you will build muscle. The thing is that while this is true, some exercise are a lot more effective at building muscle than others. Scientifically speaking, this relates to something called the ‘scale of motor unit recruitment’. This is really a fancy way of talking about how a given movement activates the various tissues in muscle. Cam and pulley exercises use less body fibres than things like dumbbell lifting because of the way their mechanics relate to the body’s natural design. The closer an exercise is to something our monkey ancestors would have needed to get by, the more likely it is to be recruiting the most motor units possible.
Imagine carrying a dead gazelle back to the cave for dinner – that would be a great muscle-building exercise. Using free weights is exponentially more effective than doing single-movement machine exercises. Getting big is about doing chins, dips, squats and deadlifts rather than triceps kickbacks or cable crossovers.
2. Spending too much time on the machines
Since we discussed scale of motor unit recruitment, this is a great point that expands on it. Sitting on the machines every day of the week is going to leave you growing much slower than if you spent some time doing chin-ups.
3. Buying into the bulking up myths
Back in the days of Arnold and Sergio, it was normal to bulk up in the off-season and cut up after. Besides the fact that adding tons of fat is bad for your health, bulking up just doesn’t do anything towards achieving your fitness and physique goals.
You want to know why? Here’s six reasons:
#1 Reason bulking is no good
Bulking-up diet programs won’t help you build muscle anymore than ingesting an ideal amount of nutrients. Sorry, but it’s simply not possible to force additional muscle growth by overfeeding.
Bulking up does not somehow magically cause the body to create more muscle. You can keep adding food to your diet, but anything in excess of an ideal amount of nutrients will not
#2 Reason bulking is no good
Because you develop an insulin resistance from bulking up, building muscle is harder in the long run. Carbohydrates preferentially go to fat stores rather than muscle when bulking up.
#3 Reason bulking is no good
Insulin resistance is hard to reverse which means bulking up will make it more difficult to get lean. Each pound of fat you bulk on is a little bit more difficulty you will have getting lean again. This is especially true for female bodybuilders, as it is generally much harder for women to achieve competition body-fat levels.
#4 Reason bulking is no good
When you get fat, your body produces aromatase enzyme. In extreme cases, you can think of being fat as self-castration due to the fact that your testosterone gets converted into estrogen (as in female hormones) which can cause some bad side-effects. If you want to start bra shopping with your girlfriend and actually need to buy something yourself, bulking will get you there.
#5 Reason bulking is no good
Fat messes with how effectively your thyroid can produce hormones – further hampering your ability to lose fat. T4 and T3, the metabolically active forms of thyroid, get converted at very low rates as your abdominal wall gets fatter.
#6 Reason bulking is no good
As your body fat percentage gets lower, your body is better able to do what is called nutrient partitioning. This is a fancy way of saying that skinny people are better at building muscle from digested food than fat people. When your body has less fat, the body is better at storing nutrients as glycogen in the muscle tissue and building more muscle. Muscle begets muscle, and fat begets fat.
#7 Reason bulking is no good
All calories are not created alike. You can eat 500 calories of lean beef, and 500 calories of fried twinkies. Which one is going to build muscle? Not the twinkies. Not to mention, being fat increases your chances of death from just about everything from heart attacks to bank robberies. Large targets are easier to hit!
4. Doing too much non-gym calorie burning
Basketball, dancing and running on the beach are fine for cardio, but you can’t build muscle doing that stuff. In the words of 1972 olympian Al Schoterman:
- The Phases of Rest
- Never run when you can walk
- Never walk when you can get a ride
- Never stand when you can sit
- Never sit when you can lie down
- Never lie down when you can go to sleep
5. Doing too few reps
Relative-strength protocols are great for training the nervous system to do high load lifting, but not the most direct route to hypertrophy. If you alternate your cycles of 9-12 reps with cycles of 4-8, you will build muscle more quickly.
6. Not drinking post-workout shakes
Post-workout shakes are critical for gaining mass. Protein synthesis rate and muscle growth can be doubled by consuming protein immediately after your workout. University of Connecticut researchers studied post-workout protein and carb shakes cause an increase in testosterone receptors. A good ratio is 4 grams of carbs per gram of protein, and one gram of protein per pound of lean body weight. A good solution is Quadricarb.
It is also good to have a post-workout glutamine supplement as this helps with muscle recover and will speed up resynthesis of glycogen and glutamine – critical in creating an anabolic environment while keeping you from being overtrained. Glycine and Primal Greens are good for lowering post-workout cortisol.
7. Not keeping hydrated
Most people do not drink enough water. Higher cortisol output is a result of dehydration, which leads to an increase in oxydative stress on the brain and increased fat storage. Drinking 0.6-0.7 fluid ounces of water per pound of bodyweight is a good rule to go by to remain hydrated. Filling the day’s water bottles ahead of time is a great way to make sure you drink enough water as it is easy to see if you have any left to drink at the end of the day. You will likely find that you’ve only been drinking 40% of the water you have been needing all along. Clear urine that is odorless is a good indicator of proper hydration. If your pee looks like lemonade, you’re not drinking enough.
8. Guzzling energy drinks
Cortisol is increased by stimulants. That’s not a big deal if you’re drinking an energy drink on the way to the gym to help get you amped. However when you are done working out the stimulants have to go. If you drink coffee all day long, your progress will be limited on the bench.
9. Not getting enough sleep
Just like with losing fat, not getting enough sleep can disrupt muscle gain. When you are sleep-deprived you have lower androgen and growth hormone levels which kills your potential to build muscle.
10. Not eating enough protein
If you have 200 pounds of lean body mass, 300 grams of protein a day is the minimum, and 400 grams of protein would be even better. You will eventually hit a ceiling of lean body mass that cannot be topped until protein intake is increased to 2 grams per pound of body weight. If you handle carbs well, the protein requirement is not as high. Everyone is unique.